Southern Illinois University




Some milestones in the history of histology

Listed here are a few events which mark the emergence and development of histology as a scientific discipline (including microscopic anatomy and cell biology), with links to entries on the histological eponyms page.

Marcello Malpighi describes blood moving through capillaries in living lung, confirming William Harvey's 1628 prediction of invisibly small pores connecting arteries with veins.
The word cell is first used for a biological structure, in Robert Hook's Micrographia.  (Hooke described cells as small empty chambers in thin slices of dry cork.)
Xavier Bichat ("the father of histology") establishes the systematic study of tissues as a discipline within anatomy by describing twenty-one basic tissue types.
Karl Mayer applies the word "histology" (German, Histologie) as the name for the new discipline founded by Bichat.
Theodor Schwann establishes Cell Theory -- one of the cornerstones of modern biology -- with his publication of Mikroskopische Untersuchungen über die Uebereinstimmung in der Struktur und dem Wachsthum der Thiere und Pflanzen  [Microscopic Studies on the Correspondence in the Structure and Growth of Animals and Plant].
1849Arthur Hassall publishes the first English-language textbook of histology, The microscopic anatomy of the human body, in health and disease, with emphasis on vasculature as revealed by dye injection.
Throughout the Nineteenth Century, many workers developed and refined protocols for fixation, sectioning, and staining to prepare tissue samples for microscopic examination.  For a contemporary account from 1911, see Encyclopedia Britannica on microtomy.  Remarkably, Bichat (1771-1802) had established the discipline of histology without using a microscope.
1852Rudolf von Kölliker ("the father of modern histology") published Handbuch der Gewebelehre des Menschen  [Manual of human histology] whose several editions defined the field of histology into the Twentieth Century.  Unlike the authors of prior texts (e.g., Mayer 1819 and Hassall 1849), Kölliker's comprehensive textbook emphasized cells as the basis for tissue structure.
1906Santiago Ramón y Cajal is awarded the Nobel Prize (with Camillo Golgi) for his neuroanatomical studies.  In his Nobel acceptance speech, Cajal defines the neuron doctrine, that nervous tissue like other tissues consists of individual cellular units.
1930sThe invention of the electron microscope, together with development of improved protocols for fixation, sectioning, and staining, vastly increased the resolution obtainable for histological investigation.

Histological eponyms

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SIUC / School of Medicine / Anatomy / David King
Last updated:  24 February 2024 / dgk